Invasion of the Red Inflatables

Several years ago, a car wash was built down the street from my office. I was glad to see it because the old one (which is actually closer to my office) was getting pretty run-down and seedy looking. Plus, the new one had a better selection of products in the self-wash bays or you could do the drive-thru for $5, if you wanted. Let’s call this place Bob’s Car Wash.

Two years ago, another car wash was built almost directly across the street from Bob’s. This car wash, however, only has a drive-thru… but it has vacuum cleaners for its customers at no charge. Almost immediately, they put one of those goofy inflatable things out front to get attention. It’s tall and stringy looking, bounces all around and really doesn’t do much to make me want to get my car washed there. Let’s call this place Sam’s Car Wash.

Today, I was driving to work and I noticed that Bob’s now has a stupid, bouncy inflatable thing in front of it… JUST LIKE SAM’S! I know it is just like Sam’s because I could see both of them at the same time. Who is the marketing genius who came up with this tactic?

Rather than promote the fact that Bob’s has both coin operated AND drive-thru equipment, they chose to do exactly what the competition was doing. To make it even worse, I can’t think of a much dumber way to try to promote a car wash. An inflatable red stick thing? Really? That’s the best Sam’s could come up with? And Bob’s is going to copy it? Wow.

It made me wonder, though… How many times do we do things because that’s what the competition is doing?

Isn’t the real goal of marketing to stand out from the crowd? To show potential customers why your product or service is exactly what they need? Why, then, do so many companies make their marketing collateral (print, video, websites…) look just like the competition’s?

Here’s a thought… The next time a project comes down the line and you need to come up with a catchy way to promote it, DON’T look to see what your competitor’s are doing. If all you are going to do is try to dress-up the same tired idea they have, why not look at a completely different industry and see how they promote themselves? The brain power involved in trying to use an unrelated industry’s concept to fit your product might just inspire some creativity on your part.

And THAT, my friends, is where the good ideas start.

Imagine if the owner of Bob’s said, “We need to do something to get our business back from Sam’s. Get me one of those nifty inflatable things like they have!” And Bob’s marketing person said, “Actually, I was thinking about how Big Sky Bread gives customers a free loaf of bread after 12 purchases. Why don’t we reward our customers like that?”

That makes a lot more sense than putting another ugly, red stringy thing out in front of your business, doesn’t it?


8 thoughts on “Invasion of the Red Inflatables

  1. Wow… I totally disagree with part of this blog post. The point of the big moving object isn’t to convey a marketing message, its to get you to not drive by without noticing they are there. Not only did they accomplish getting you to notice their existence… they got you to write about it.

    I’m a big fan of moving object in front of stores and events. Its a proven fact that motion catches attention. We are programed to look for it. Once you are looking at the store, it the job of other signs / banners to communicate the true message.

    1. Hmmm… I’m not against something eye-catching for a special event (grand opening, a sale, etc.). The problem with the newest car wash is that they have had the same thing in front for two years. The problem for the “less-new” car wash is that they are now copying an ineffective tactic. And, yes, this is definitely a form of marketing (for better or worse).

      My real point, however, isn’t so much whether it’s a good idea to put a red stringy thing in front of your business… My point is that you shouldn’t look at your competition to see what they are doing and then copy them. Originality goes a long way (much longer than the red string thing, I’m sure!).

      Thanks for sharing your point-of-view!

  2. Brian, I like the post–great, simple example of why copycatting is not the answer. Good marketing is all about differentiating yourself from your competitors. Bob has a meaningful differentiation and he’s not using it.

    Adding a big red bouncy thing is the exact opposite of what Bob needs to do.

    As for Sam, that the big, red bouncy thing was probably a great way to attract attention for a short time, but not two years. And, too bad the bouncy thing couldn’t have been something that somehow relates to a car wash. That would have been bigger.

    The real winner is the person who rents/sells big red, bouncy things!

    1. You are exactly right, Lori… Maybe I should get in the business of selling big red bouncy things! 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Great post, and great comments. I have to say I agree with both of you guys.

    The silly stringy dude certainly does grab attention – it’s a “look over here” prompt. But to your point, B2, what is the car wash doing now they have our attention?

    It seems like they are certainly missing out on a big opportunity. How about a red thing and some sort of sign pointing out a promotion or a feature the other car wash doesn’t have? Bob’s Car Wash needs to start at the beginning. What makes us special/different. What do we have that Sam’s does not. And then let customers know about it.

    There was a recent TV ad, and I feel foolish for forgetting who it was for, but the the theme is very relevant to this post. A small neighborhood barber’s saloon is bullied by a brand new modern hair saloon which has set up across the street. Both saloons have their haircut price on signage outside. The old one advertises $8 haircuts, the new trendy one follows suit and promotes $5 haircuts. Soon, business is booming at the new place.

    But, like with most products and services, cheapest rarely equates to the best – and the old barber knows this. How does he counter the mega trendy saloons lower price point? He gets a brand new sign. It says: “We fix $5 haircuts.” Genius!

    I think that’s a great example of clever marketing (even if it’s ripped straight from a commercial). What do you do that the competition doesn’t?

    To be honest, that’s how we roll at Evolve. Sometimes people “copy” us, but we don’t see that as a bad thing. It forces us to innovate and put our marketing hats on. 🙂

    1. I know the commercial to which you are referring. Brilliant.

      And, as you well know… “Imitation is the biggest form of flattery.” If others are copying you, chances are you’re doing something right… And you’re getting noticed!

      Thanks for the input, Kevin.

  4. I like the red balloons. They capture my attention cause I always wonder how they blow up, then fall over, then blow up again….almost like they are waving at you. Amazing:). But, I like your blog too! I would never copy the bozo across the street, for fear, someone would notice I copied the bozo across the street.

    1. Heh, heh… I don’t mean to sound like I have a grudge against the red bouncy things (I’m sure my daughter loves them, too!). It’s the “copying bozos” that I’m talking about. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by, Amanda!

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